The COVID-19 virus and consequential lockdown has created an array of unprecedented challenges for the law enforcing agencies and leadership worldwide. According to the publicly available crime data, murders across various countries including UK have skyrocketed in 2020 while nonviolent offenses have largely dropped. It is highly likely that apparent decrease in current crime rate might not be a real decrease but silence due to lack of available support in social distancing culture. As evident through worldwide data, most crimes including home burglary and robbery have gone down during this lock down period whereas murder rates have raised sharply both in large cities and smaller ones. Number of homicides and hate crimes reached a grim milestone in urban areas. In other words, a blatant paradigm shift can be seen from domestic violence to pandemic violence. The apparent fall in crime rate is simply the change in nature of criminal activity as some aspects of criminal activity have thrived indoors. Crimes like domestic abuse can also go unnoticed in areas with less social interaction. Nevertheless it is important to explore what are the factors behind the latest trend of low domestic violence and increased homicide, plus factors that may contribute to increase in crime post lockdown period.
• Social distancing, lock down, self-isolation and travel ban have left the impact of pressure cooker to a large majority of population particularly the socialites. Another important chunk of the population that has been ignored highly during this pandemic is youth who are in precarious situation. A lot of young people are the caregivers of their adults who have physical or non-physical disability and are obliged to provide for their families. This is the segment that is in desperate need of help from the system that has failed them. The resulting frustration and financial shrink can become the reason for uptick in violence.
• As normality has suspended due to COVID 19, criminal gangs have found ways to become more active. The factors which are known to fuel crime have increased due to lock down, one of which is economic fallout. Moreover, social issues which had always been there continued behind closed doors.
• When the community loses trust in the police violence can be followed. The corona virus act 2020 has significantly increased the power disposition of UK Police to impose social distancing in the country. This has led to the fraught relationship between UK police and public communities. The underlying reason for this is legitimizing force for ensuring quarantine and curbing public gatherings. It is nonetheless important to understand that if the relationship between police and general public deteriorates any further, street justice will take hold which would lead to a very sharp spike in crime rate.
• Shortage of products and fears and anxieties of regular citizens has allowed the counterfeit industry to exploit the covid-19 situation. Counterfeit products aimed at healthcare and pharmaceuticals, especially those related to prevention of diseases like medical equipment and pharmaceuticals have paved their way in targeting larger segments by offering low prices compared to those of genuine ones. One example is selling of chloroquine via instant messaging apps as the demand for chloroquine rose. Now, the development of vaccine can also prompt the wave of offers for counterfeit vaccines, hence giving rise to the crime rate in counterfeit industry.
• Efforts to curb homicides are falling short as police departments are facing staffing shortages because of COVID-19 pandemic. The economic impact of the virus has also caused financial slack resulting in worst ever annual budget cuts for law enforcement agencies leaving them with their hands tied at their backs. Particularly the Police department has lost income they used to get from policing airports and football matches. This shortfall of income has and will continue to jeopardize the department’s ability to tackle soaring crime.
• A shift has also been noticed in cybercrime. As lockdown has closed doors for physical snatching and theft, criminals have adapted themselves to digital world and have learnt new skills which they can continue to utilize even after the lockdown is over.
• If we study the nineteenth century experience of cholera, we learn that cholera and yellow fever had set off waves of social violence against doctors, hospital workers and government officials. Recurrence of such behavior is expected as post pandemic scenario will leave many to fear for their future. People who have gone through the trauma of losing a loved one or gone through financial difficulties tend to look for ways to vent off their anxieties and frustration. On the other hand, crimes like domestic abuse which were increased during lockdown, as victims were trapped with their abusers, are highly likely to decrease post lockdown.
• It has been observed that civilian distress due to such situations lead to violent confrontations between law enforcement agencies and general public. Moreover, due to various confusing public statements made by community leaders regarding pandemic, public is bemused and public messages have lost credibility. Punitive responses to crime during lock down were either seized or slowed due to courts closed and law enforcement officials engagement with other responsibilities leading to public distrust.
Considering the above cited facts, it is obvious that crimes are expected to surge post pandemic. However, as there seem to be no return to “business as usual” anytime soon, the situation will more be dependent on how long the lockdown last and how the world looks like on the other side of the pandemic. It is indeed evident through various studies that the legal stay at home orders caused a steep fall in crime rate relating to burglaries and thefts during pandemic. However shifting back to the normal routine will bring a quick increase in these crimes as criminals will strive to make up for their lost income.
To successfully understand and manage the plethora of challenges countries face in post pandemic situation, one needs to analyze the historic data and past experiences of the nations and communities gone through such challenges. Following recommendations extracted through historic trends are not exhaustive but can be taken as proactive measures to curb potential increase in crime post lockdown.
1. Communication needs be made transparent to retain public trust post pandemic. Law enforcement agencies need to engage more in explaining, communicating and collaborating. This will allow them to deliver better security and safety to their respective communities.
2. In order to curb counterfeit and fake product industry, social media platforms should be monitored closely as such products are usually sold online.
3. It is during this lock down period that people have lost their trust in prosecution and justice system due to delayed response. Another factor is the lingering distrust in communities of color following nationwide protests. It is therefore very important for concerned authorities and leadership to set new examples of racial equality and fair treatment.
4. In order to deal with inflated crime rate, communities need to be trained and communicated methods and strategies to prevent crime.
5. One of the solutions to deter crime, post lock down, is to engage private security services to dissuade threat and vandalism.
6. It is highly crucial to create and maintain an infrastructure wherein various law enforcement bodies can collaborate and interact to ensure security measures at all levels.
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